Leonardo DiCaprio Vs. Jake Gyllenhaal: Who is the Best Actor of This Decade?

This generation of ours is extremely lucky. And not so very much. These mixed feelings are a result of the boon of devotion and the bane of commercialization. A movie, as much as everyone else says, is fueled by the performances of its actors. Without them surrendering themselves to the script and getting lost in the contours of their characters, a film can’t achieve greatness. In the 21st Century, especially this decade, the two stalwarts who stand out are Jake Gyllenhaal and Leonardo DiCaprio. Officially belonging to this generation of actors, these two have seemingly no other competitor in terms of performances and the commerciality of their films. While DiCaprio has been showered with popularity and Academy nominations, and praise God a win, Gyllenhaal is yet to receive that magnitude of affection but is surely getting there with calculated steps. His barren run at the Oscars though is not only a surprise but is borderline sacrilegious.  This article hopes to draw up an informed dichotomy between the two and render a more comprehensive distinction in their styles. By the end, we’ll know who is the better actor! Happy reading!

Physical Transformations

Both the actors have had relatively fewer roles which have demanded them to go the distance. DiCaprio, in fact, has never gone through a drastic change of any sort from his movies. His supporters would say his acting skills are enough. At times, though, it isn’t. Gyllenhaal has had three films where he has swung on both sides of the spectrum. For the brilliant ‘Nightcrawler’, the mercurial actor lost almost 40 pounds, portraying a lean and mean stringer Lou Bloom, who records sensationalist events, often characterized by violence at night, and sends them to willing TV stations. Eating nothing but kale salads and chewing gum, and running fifteen miles every day, Gyllenhaal set the standards high. While others around him were polemic in protests, Dan Gilroy, the director of the movie, respected his arrangements and accordingly altered the character in the script. How he didn’t get a nomination, lest win, is beyond fathomable. He undid himself with his fierce act in the sports-drama ‘Southpaw’. Playing a pugilist at the acme of his career, Gyllenhaal gained almost the same amount in muscles, putting to shame many professional boxers with that steely physique.

For his newest film, which should most definitely get a nomination, ‘Stronger’, he was required to uncomfortably and painstakingly fold his legs and wrapping them up to give the look of an amputated pair. His performance, like the other two, received critical acclaim and is touted to be a strong contender, despite Daniel Day-Lewis waking up from his hibernation. Dicaprio, on the other hand, hasn’t had any noticeable change in his physicality, lest the J. Edgar role, which was all due to prosthetics. Undoubtedly, Gyllenhall triumphs him in this field. Gyllenhaal 1, Dicaprio 0.


Even before this category is contested, we have a clear winner. Dicaprio’s insane popularity, which started with ‘Titanic’, has failed to cease, augmenting in unimaginable metrics with each film. The number of blockbusters to his name is substantially more than any other actor currently working, let alone Gyllenhaal. Even if only ‘Titanic’ is concerned, Gyllenhaal’s movies don’t sum up to match that. His biggest hit to date has been ‘Life’, the sci-fi thriller released in 2017.

Looks like Dicaprio takes this one. Gyllenhaal 1, Dicaprio 1.

Acting and the Variety in Roles

So it all boils down to this category, which, in all the essence of art, it should. This heading also covers the variety of characters the two have taken up, and essentially every other thing that is even remotely related to acting. An inherent advantage for Gyllenhaal here is the fact that he actively pursues Broadway and theatre, something which DiCaprio is too ‘big’ for apparently. If we compare their movies over the past decade, we can draw two conclusions: Gyllenhaal has never repeated a character personality, whereas DiCaprio is more or less playing himself in every movie, in which he is absolutely brilliant. Secondly, Gyllenhaal is more or less the only shining star of his movies, directed by unknowns and co-starring with novices, while DiCaprio has a celebrated litany of directors helming his movies, sharing screen space with some of the biggest stars in the world. His upwards stride since the year 2001, after his phenomenal success with ‘Donnie Darko’, has been remarkably consistent and has certainly augmented with each passing role.

With every movie, every character he inhabits, he seems to get better and better. Dicaprio started much earlier in the industry, and instantly shot to fame as Jack in ‘Titanic’. Prior to that, his mesmerizing and moving performance in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ earned him his first Academy nomination, which was thoroughly deserved. After that movie, though, I feel as if he hasn’t challenged himself enough. If I were to close my eyes and hear Jordan Belfort and Mr. Candy speak, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Charming and efficacious in his roles, Dicaprio almost eases through them with effortless precision and sniper-like conviction. Despite that, Gyllenhaal’s much more mysterious and erratic person and rugged charisma is more attractive and lends an engaging essence to his characters. Take for example his taciturn and restrained turn as Detective Loki in Dennis Villeneuve’s ‘Prisoners’. His incessant blinking and harried sense of speech, created by the actor himself, beautifully presents his present circumstances of anxiousness and the turmoil the town finds itself in. The frustrated detective’s past experiences accentually haunt him in broad daylight, pushing him further into the abyss of hysteria and helplessness.

‘Nightcrawler’ most definitively should have fetched him the golden bludgeon. Gyllenhaal’s emphatic play as a charming sociopath, rummaging through the streets of the city at nights, hoping to find misery and tell macabre tales, is supremely creepy and hauntingly beautiful. It is perhaps this performance that is a bravura, career-changing tour-de-force, which will turn the brook of his career in a new direction. Many critics have compared Lou Bloom with Robert De Niro’s Travis Buckle, the fame anti-hero of Scorcese’s legendary ‘Taxi Driver’, with traces of De Niro’s award-winning performance in ‘The Kings of Comedy’. Gyllenhaal’s character harbored traits shared by De Niro’s characters in the two films, and the film is an obvious evidence that the actor is learning to channel an eerie, inner charisma, offering it up in glimpses and glimmers rather than all at once.

Something similar is for us to see in his ignored and neglected ‘Demolition’. Traumatized by his wife’s tragic and horrific death, Davis Mitchell goes paranoid and assumes a heightened sense of realism and pragmatism in life. His blank stares at the camera and an accentuated body language channeling the anguish and pain he feels at his wife’s loss are  brilliant. ‘Southpaw’ is another example of how good he is in mediocre films, and the reason he doesn’t win many awards. Billy Hope’s inability to be articulate and express himself stems from the character background that Gyllenhaal crafty concocted. Uneducated, orphaned since early childhood, and being bullied, all point towards his speech impediment and inefficiency in speaking. He vents his frustration and is articulate in the ring instead. These flurry of roles, with a few more, should give him the nod ahead of Leo.

Coming to DiCaprio, there isn’t much to say really. Brilliant and stunning in everything he plays, he has an advantage due to starring in better films. Comparing the two’s speaking abilities, Leo has more roles which prompted a change in his accent, which he undoubtedly is a master of. But I don’t get surprised when he takes to the screen. Even though he is absolutely perfect in what he plays, and will go down as one of the best in the history of celluloid, isn’t any weirder than the common Joe and that is somewhere Jake takes the bout.

So, all in all, DiCaprio has certainly a better filmography solely because he has been an actor for a much longer period of time than Gyllenhaal. But if we just take into account this decade, there is no question that Gyllenhaal takes the prize of being the greater actor.

Gyllenhaal 2, Dicaprio 1.